Last Chance to Save Israeli Democracy

Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Kahol Lavan rival Benny Gantz at the Knesset in Jerusalem, 2019.
Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak

Israel’s democracy is at the height of a process of collapse, and Election Day is the last opportunity to halt it. The reign of Justice Minister Amir Ohana and State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman – presided over by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is constantly being driven crazy by his wife and son – is a nightmare. If we don’t stop it through our votes, we may quickly tumble down the slope and wind up like Poland or Hungary or even Turkey.

The blow Ohana dealt Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit through Acting State Prosecutor Dan Eldad’s announcement, in the middle of the evening news, of the opening of a criminal investigation into Fifth Dimension is just a prologue to what our daily fare will be in the next transitional government. There isn’t just a “whiff of politics” here, to quote opposition leader Benny Gantz, who formerly served as Fifth Dimension’s chairman of the board. This is a fundamentally corrupt political decision, whose timing was deliberate and unscrupulous.

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It is meant, first of all, to create an image of symmetry between Gantz, an honest man, and Netanyahu, whose trial on the most serious of charges will open in another three weeks. It is also meant to signal the attorney general which way the wind is blowing starting today. If we allow this to continue, every one of us could be a target of similar “quasi-judicial” harassment tomorrow.

Netanyahu, who is collapsing as the start of his trial nears, has nothing to lose. Moreover, he knows there are still some investigations that may await him – involving his stocks, his cousin and his false reports to the state comptroller, and immediately after that, perhaps others looking into Israel’s submarine purchases, its natural gas deal and who knows what else.

And if the election results allow him to demand that he be tasked with forming a government, don’t count on the gatekeepers; they are already paralyzed by fear. If the leaders of the opposition and the voters don’t wake up and wage a scathing, merciless campaign in the days remaining, this paralysis will only get worse.

The attorney general will be afraid to carry out his duty to rule that a man about to stand trial for bribery and fraud over his actions in previous governments can’t form a new government. He’ll understand that the day after issuing such a decision, he’ll be fired.

The scarecrow in the Ohana-Englman mode who will be appointed in his stead will argue to the High Court of Justice that this was a reasonable decision. On the morning of the hearing, tens of thousands of riled up protesters will demonstrate outside the High Court with burning tires against this attempt by “the alienated elite” to hurt “God’s friend.”

Some of the justices will tell their friends, heaven forbid, that unknown persons are following their grandchildren on their way to and from preschool. I believe this has happened in the past to the children of the prosecutor in Netanyahu’s cases, Liat Ben-Ari.

And if anyone is convinced that the High Court will be the dike blocking this wave, I suggest that they reconsider. When have we seen it come to its senses in that fashion recently?

The Supreme Court, as one of its presidents said, has neither the sword nor purse, but only the public’s faith. But this faith has for years been the target of a destructive assault by Netanyahu, his mouthpieces and his lapdogs.

And President Reuven Rivlin? He takes his responsibilities seriously, but he also dwells among his people. He, too, understands that if he doesn’t allow Netanyahu to form a government, he’ll be up against the acting replacement of the attorney general who was fired and an intimidated High Court. In this situation the president is liable to be deterred as well.

There is no symmetry between Netanyahu, who is charged with bribery, and the fabrications of some “The Shadow” (a right-wing rapper) about Kahol Lavan leader Gantz. Just as there’s no symmetry between the nauseating idol worship of Netanyahu by his mouthpieces in the media, along with their willingness to libel Gantz and his associates, and the fact that left-leaning journalists harshly criticize Netanyahu but don’t bow down to any of their leaders.

So what do we learn from all this? First, that we must win this election. This is the last chance to save Israel’s democracy and its future from its destroyers, led by the prime minister. Woe to us if we fail. It’s vital that each and every believer in the Zionist dream, the Declaration of Independence and an Israel that’s both democratic and Jewish, both liberal and nationalist, show up and vote for one of the parties in the center-left bloc.

Second, the opposition’s leaders, first and foremost Gantz, must confront the public with both the opportunity and the danger posed by the current situation. They must also promise to fight with all their might against the pressure that will be exerted on the attorney general, the High Court and the president to prevent them from doing their duties.

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